This year’s Cougars remind head coach James Dickey of another team from his past.
“I had a young group my second year at Tech,” Dickey said.
That 1992-93 Red Raider team featured players like freshman forward Jason Sasser and sped out of the gate to a 7-2 start before going 4-8 in their next 12 games.
“We had so many young guys, and it wasn’t until midway through the conference race until we really started playing well,” Dickey said.
The Red Raiders would come together though to go 6-1 down the stretch to finish 18-12, including a run through the Southwest Conference Tournament to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
Similarly, this Cougars team is talented and full of young players, enjoying and enduring the highs and lows that come with having a talented, but young roster. Already, the Cougars have seen winning streaks of three and five games, but also broke those up with separate three-game losing streaks.
“It’s frustrating because we expect a lot more because these guys are talented,” Dickey said.
Right now, they are closer to that Tech team during its slide rather than its late-season run. Whether they can come together and have the success of that young Red Raider team is on the shoulders of the players. Rebounding has been a concern all season, but the Cougars have struggled in the second halves of games, especially during their current three-game slide.
“It started at UTEP,” Dickey said. “I thought we really competed hard here against Tulsa. In the second half against UTEP, we didn’t defend very well. Second half against Central Florida, we didn’t rebound. And the second half against Memphis, after the 14-minute mark, we just didn’t play.”
Against the Tigers, the Cougars were able to cut the deficit to eight, but then allowed Memphis to go on an 18-0 run.
“We really haven’t taken advantage of opportunities where we build up momentum,” Dickey said.
“I think it’s a combination of the things. The biggest thing is that we have to have a mindset that we are going to compete on every possession for 40 minutes. That has to be the mindset.”
Dickey stressed that the Cougars are settling for too many jump shots.
“We’ve got to get more stuff going to the basket,” he said. “We’ve been going east and west too much. We need to start going north and south, either on dribble drives, back cuts; we’re playing way too much out of the perimeter, playing way too soft offensively.”
Junior forward Kirk Van Slyke’s play might be a key to helping the Cougars get back on track. During the Cougars’ season-opening three-game win streak, Van Slyke averaged 14.3 points and 7.3 rebounds. Van Slyke has faded to 5.3 points and 2.3 rebounds in the last three losses for the Cougars though.
“Early, he was shooting the ball well,” Dickey said. “He was much more physical. And we need to get him involved because he’s a terrific pick-and-pop guy, pick-and-roll guy. He can shoot the ball, get to the free throw line. He’s not playing quite as physical as we would like him to down low, and I don’t want him to be just a straight perimeter player.
“He’s another guy we need to get rolling and we’re hoping that the way we’re going to open this up a little bit will get him involved and stretch the defense.”
Despite the last three ugly losses, the talent is there for the Cougars to turn things around.
“Part of it is understanding that you look at it, you learn from it and you move forward,” Dickey said.